NGOs in Sustainable Development

I attended the seminar regarding the prospective curriculum for the new “Management: Sustainability” major. I had expressed both at the panel and in class that I felt NGOs should be one of the central focuses of the curriculum, allow me to clarify in this weeks blog post by pulling from my written material and resources.

As I learned in my class taught by Professor Martin last year, sustainable development is a difficult term to define. Sustainable development is, in simplest terms, the act of sustaining development; thus, we must truly understand development before we attempt to make it sustainable. Development is anchored in the existence, and co-existence, of the Public Sector, the Private Sector, and the Non-Profit Sector (NGOs). The Non-Profit Sector is perhaps the most elusive and undervalued of the three sectors. It serves the function of indentifying the many things that the Private Sector could potentially profit from, and identifying the many things that the Public Sector could do a better job at.

To quote one of the readings we had, Jude Howell and Jenny Pearce, of Civil Society and Development, believe, “The non-profit sector operates as a sphere of economic activities that generates outputs in the form of schools, universities, hospitals, clinics, and soup kitchens. These in turn provide employment and income and add to the gross national product.” The Non-Profit Sector deals with the issues that are left untouched by the Public Sector and the Private Sector. Once the Non-Profit Sector identifies and alleviates some of the issues in society, the Private Sector enables profit to be made out of issues. The creation of the soup kitchen offers both the public good from civil society but it also employs the servers, the custodial staff, and the chefs, hence pouring profit and dollars into the Private Sector. The creation of the soup kitchen points to some detriments in society that the Public Sector might want to address. If the soup kitchen becomes of enough public interest then the Public Sector might very well begin spending its energy and time toward fixing the societal problem.

Development often arises out of the Non-Profit Sector and finds a more efficient and effective setting in the Public or Private Sectors, respectively. We do not live in a Utopian society, which means civil society will always have a place in the world. As long as there are problems, demands, what-have-you there will be NGOs attempting to make heads or tails of the situation. Development begins in the Non-Profit realm, which is why I believe the new Managing for Sustainability Majors must become well versed in NGOs.


Sustainability – A way of thought

Last week I attended a sustainability workshop discussing the different sustainability courses both at Bucknell and that will be offered in the future at Bucknell. The professors were asked questions about the course ranging from their true functionality and what they aim to achieve by offering the courses to students. They were even able to justify many of the different offerings by showing the changes in corporate culture and the changes happening in the climate which we can see today.

What interested me the most was that it took this long for something of this nature to happen at Bucknell. Sustainability, while it may not always have been called that, has been a topic of discussion for quite some time now. It shows up in discussion where others wonder if an event or something we do can continue to go on. What needs to continue to change, though, is the way in which we think. We have applied sustainable thought to everyday things, such as relationships, jobs, etc, to see whether or not these types of things can be maintained and thrive on their own. That same thought needs to go further and people need to think whether a business process of a daily routine can continue to happen and what the side effects are. It is in the idea of changing thought that I believe a sustainability curriculum can have a positive effect on society. I am glad that Bucknell has taken this initiative.

Sustainability & Bucknell

This past week I attended the 10am symposium that spoke about sustainability and how it applies to Bucknell University. The session was moderated by Peter Wilshusen and included talks by Alf Siewers, David Kristjanson-Gural, and Jamie Hendy. Each professor spoke on varying areas of sustainability—including what they are most passionate about within the area, what sustainability means to them, and how it applies to our campus community. They provided varying definitions of sustainability, they spoke of the future, and of possible solutions to the environmental issues that plague us today.

Alf Siewers was the first faculty member to speak. The main idea of his talk was that we should not take our environment for granted, and emphasized that idea that we need to try to find meaning in our lives outside of technological communication. For instance, he gave the example of watching the sunset over the Bucknell academic quad. He stated, “When you watch the sunset on the academic quad over the Appalachian Mountains, do you stop and appreciate what you are seeing? Or do you find yourself looking down at your cell phone?”  He repeatedly referred to sustainability as “a story”.

 Professor Kristjanson-Gural spoke next. He spoke from two different perspectives—first social justice and then economic. He demonstrated how social justice and sustainability are interrelated, but separate as well. He noted that it is possible to have a just system that is unsustainable, and a sustainable system that is unjust. He also said a very controversial statement saying that capitalism is intrinsically unsustainable because it creates uneven distribution of wealth. I see his point, but I do not think that I can support ending capitalism.

Finally, Professor Hendy spoke from a management perspective. As she also teaches Business, Government and Society, it came as no surprise that most of her talk could directly tie back into our class discussions. Her message was clear—that it is entirely up to our generation to pave the way for change, to make the world a better place, and to try to save our environment. I absolutely loved when she brought up Patagonia as an example of a company that is truly doing things the right way from a sustainability standpoint. They exemplify social responsibility and are truly paving the way for the future of sustainable clothing.

I am very pleased that I attended this symposium. What I enjoyed the most was hearing each individual professor’s unique perspective on sustainability, and seeing how the issue of sustainability is important across all fields of study. I was disappointed that they did not talk more about what we as Bucknell students can do, and how the issue of sustainability is affecting our campus. I would have liked to hear more on that topic. Overall, I thought it was great. Definitely worth waking up early to go see it!!

Teaching for a sustainable future

Although the session about curriculum would not have been my first choice to attend during the Sustainability Seminar, it was the only one that fit in my schedule on short notice. Four professors spoke about their respective sustainability-focused courses and programs, then sat for a brief question and answer panel.

I’m not going to go over what was said by each since there are already half a dozen posts like that, but realize that sustainability is not just about the environment and natural resources. The gist of the Engineering department sustainability curriculum was to develop courses for engineers but include all students, not labelled engineering, and provide necessary perspectives for engineers designing sustainable technologies and techniques. The new sustainability-focused Management major is about managing limited resources to carry out an organization’s mission in an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable method. The Bucknell in Nicaragua program is focused on social sustainability of communities and adaptation to external and internal pressures. The interdisciplinary integrative perspectives courses, wrestle with issues, combine content, model interdisciplinary collaboration through co-teaching by professors in different disciplines that inspire new perspectives on how to deal with global questions with local ramifications.

I think sustainability is a very important topic for all students to cover as our world is more crowded than ever and natural resources are becoming scarce. The global market requires sustainable thinking and planning to continue, as we have talked about the need to develop long-term benefits rather than short term rewards thinking.